(image via Kali Orexi - a fantastic Greek food blog. Charles lent my camera cord to a friend and once I get it back, I will update with a photo of the cake I made)
When we were in Greece last year, Charles and I fell in love with Ravani, a sweet syrup moistened semolina cake that is also known as Olympiad Sugar Cake. The winning athletes in the ancient Pan-Hellenic games were crowned with parsley and awarded these sweet spicy cakes. We enjoyed them daily as a late afternoon, post sight seeing pick-me-up snack with a refreshing Nescafe frappe (I'm convinced this is the drink that inspired the Frappuccino). All the local cafes in Greece offered their version of Ravani and we became hooked.
A few weeks after we returned home from our vacation, we went to a newly opened Greek restaurant in Chicago that promised authentic Greek cuisine - just like the food in Greece. Naturally, we were excited but much to our dismay, we discovered they did not serve Ravani. The owner said it was something reserved for special occasions and she was surprised to hear that we had encountered it with such frequency in Greece. She even questioned us over and over again asking if indeed it was truly Ravani. We have been to a few more Greek restaurants since then and a similar conversation takes places between us and the owners. Maybe, we just got lucky on our vacation?
While cleaning out my pantry this morning, I discovered a partial bag of semolina, AKA farina. I'm not sure what I purchased it for but I had enough to whip up a batch of Ravani cake. I consulted a few recipes on-line and this is what I came up with based on other ingredients I had on hand. There are many variations to this cake - you can add nuts, flavor the syrup with rose water or other flavorings and almond meal can also be added to the batter - but I kept things fairly basic.
The syrup soak also makes this cake a great match for a simple, honey flavored dessert wine such as Muscat, try one from Patras or Samos. A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or whip cream can also be served with the cake to cut the sweetness.
2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
6 eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 drops almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup semolina (not instant)
1 cup cake flour (I use Swan Down)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees
Sift together cake flour and baking powder
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, pausing to scrape sugar and butter at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Add vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest. Slowly incorporate semolina until well combined. Slowly incorporate sifted cake flour and mix until well combined.
Pour batter into a greased pan. I used a casserole dish which allowed the batter to come 1/2 way up.
Bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer
While cake is baking, prepare syrup
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil; simmer until the sugar is dissolved, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Add lemon juice (this will prevent the sugar from crystallizing) and cinnamon
When cake has finished baking and still hot, pour entire syrup mixture over the cake
The verdict: the flavor is spot on and I love this recipe. My only complaint is the syrup sunk to the bottom so only half the cake is really juicy, which is not really a problem since you get two variations in one. Next time, I will pour the syrup more slowly to avoid this problem or use a more shallow dish.